Somewhere along the way – maybe around the time when fans began to get really excited for the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future – the general public was trying hard to convince itself that hoverboards were, in fact, real. However, those weird devices that move people at a snail’s pace and are banned just about everywhere because they may randomly explode are not actually hoverboards. At least, certainly not the way we’ve come to accept them into our social consciousness, thanks in no small part to Marty McFly. Sorry – try again.
While that beloved film by Robert Zemeckis was perhaps premature on the hoverboards and flying cars of 2015, the future as seen on film isn’t entirely fictitious – just, occasionally, ahead of its time. While we eagerly await real hoverboards, other iconic visions of the future from past movies have become the reality of our present. And just because we don’t yet have pre-cogs or dinosaur clones, it doesn’t mean we never will. (Here’s hoping.) After all, many science fiction films are prescient, envisioning a world with devices that are now commonplace, from tablet computers (2001: A Space Odyssey) to mobile phones (Star Trek) or the presence of artificial intelligence (see: just about every film).
Let’s take a look at some current tech developments that past films have foreshadowed:
The Zero Theorem (2013) – Virtual Reality Sex
Terry Gilliam, the imaginative and philosophical director, offers an unnerving vision of the future in his 2013 sci-fi film The Zero Theorem. Christoph Waltz plays Qohen, a menial programmer of sorts who works to determine whether his life, and indeed all life, has meaning. It’s not a fun existence, and one way he escapes this routine is by venturing into the world of virtual reality, through which he can fulfill his sexual desires. VR sex is already here (there are toys!), and it’s an industry hard at work with all the promises and consequences you can imagine.
Demolition Man also features a virtual reality sex scene in which two characters engage with one another using that medium, as opposed to simply one person looking for pleasure unilaterally.
They Live (1988), Minority Report (2002) – Personalized Advertising
A pair of famous films feature visions of the future that are admittedly rather predictable, provided you view ours as a society looking to make the most money possible while constantly watching every single person within it. To a lesser extent in John Carpenter’s They Live and far more overtly in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, main characters walk through the streets and are met with direct, personalized advertising. Facial recognition technology exists in these futuristic worlds, which is used to make judgments about what you might be more inclined to purchase – and in reality, it’s quickly becoming more advanced, and far creepier.
Total Recall (1990)– Robot Drivers
One of the many bizarre scenes in Paul Verhoeven’s fantastical sci-fi thriller Total Recall features Arnold Schwarzenegger fleeing in a cab. (Of course, his driver is a robot and they’re having trouble communicating, but that’s sort of beside the point.) This was 1990, and it took under 25 years for cars to actually be driverless. In California, Google has deployed self-driving cars, and it can be pretty weird to see them operate without a person sitting behind the wheel (maybe robots aren’t such a bad idea). Nevertheless, we do have cars run by artificial intelligence and not humans.
Minority Report – Gesture-Based Tech
It was arguably a great movie all around, but audiences fell in love with those fictional computer screens that popped up and could be manipulated right in front of you. In 2002, this seemed beautiful and cool, and variations of that technology have been developed over the years. (Spielberg actually consulted designers and scientists to get the most accurate predictions). Today, companies are racing to perfect gesture-based technology. We’ve the Oculus Touch, for example, and just last week Sony joined the fray, having filed a patent for the most Minority Report-like tech: using glove controllers to manipulate screens.
The Truman Show (1998) – Reality Television
Here we’ve an honourable mention that may seem slightly out of step with the others on this list. A fantastic blend of comedy, drama, science fiction, and critique, The Truman Show is a wonder of a movie and a vision of the future that wasn’t overtly about the future. The title character was born on live TV, and his life was catalogued and fabricated around him without his knowledge. While we don’t yet have that sort of dishonesty (that we know of), for years now audiences around the world have gathered to watch real people living on TV. Big Brother and all its derivations (Real Housewives¸ Jersey Shore, and all sorts of pornographic or sexual variations as well) place cameras in houses, and we simply … watch. Often scenarios are controlled by producers and directors, who manipulate a reality that is already manipulated; nevertheless, we have, as a society, gathered to watch the fates of others on TV, however mundane or absurd it seems.
These movies were all made in the last 25 years or so, and some even more recent. It makes a person wonder what films like Ex-Machina and Mad Max Fury Road will have accurately forecasted in the years to come.